by Mele Lynn FullerInterface ArchitectSAFECO Insurance CompanyMember, Agents Council for Technologymelful@SAFECO.com
Agencies are constantly reminded that they must keep their software updated to the latest version. Agency management systems vendors tout the latest features and benefits of their new releases. Software users groups remind you that these features will improve agency efficiency. IIABA promotes staying current with technology. And your agency technical support staff/consultant can’t imagine the agency will survive without the latest ‘hot’ operating system and/or software.
There is merit to what every one of these organizations is saying. You should stay current. There are benefits to doing so. Being current often results in enhanced features, efficiencies and capabilities to handle the latest interfaces.
However, the decision to install is not always simple. There are many contributing factors to any software upgrade decision. And no single solution applies to all agencies.
Consider the software that is running in a typical agency:
Agency management System, including
- Desktop Operating System/Networking
- Server Operating System
- Data Base Software
- Interfacing Software for IVANS
- Add-On Optional Products
Carrier Proprietary Software
Comparative Rating Software
Miscellaneous Software for agency and/or personal use
With few exceptions, these various software packages, some network based and some local, can co-exist on your agency system without problems. On the other hand, every piece of software you run has interdependencies with the operating system and the communications software and has specific configuration requirements. “Communications” is used here to mean a broad term including your internal desktop networking systems (e.g., Win98) and IVANS interfaces (for upload, download and XML Real Time), as well as Internet connections.
You know the problems these interdependencies cause. Software provider A requires Win98 for its software, but provider B just sent you a new release that runs only on Win2000. Carrier X says to use Internet Explorer V5.x and carrier Y sends you an upgrade that requires Internet Explorer V6.x. The new workstation you bought came with Windows XP installed, but your software providers haven’t tested in this environment. Or your management system provider says they will no longer support Win98 (only Win2000 or NT) on the workstations. What do you do?
First, you generally start by listening to your agency management system provider. All the software in your agency is important to you, but your business operations are entirely dependent on the management system. If a new upgrade requires an operating system (or a Microsoft Office) upgrade, you have to research the consequences of this change on the balance of the software in your agency. It is very important to stay current, but do your research in advance of any installation.
Second, before making changes to workstation operating systems, you need to make certain that all your software will run under the newer version. Develop a list of all software in the agency: software name, location (whose desktop &/or server), current operating system requirements, help desk phone number or web address. Keep this current! Any time you are considering an upgrade, contact everyone on that list to make sure their software will run under the upgrade – and if not, when will it.
Today (June 2002), a specific example of this issue results from the new PCs that come with Microsoft XP installed. If you are about to order workstations, call your software providers. Tell them specifically that you are ordering workstations that come with XP installed. Will their software run under Windows XP? Have they tested it under XP? Are any users actually running it under XP today? If not, when will they be prepared to support their software under XP? You may find that you have to ask your hardware provider to install an older operating system.
Third, if possible, when doing an upgrade, keep one workstation in your agency on the old software for a while. This is a nuisance and may require a spare PC in the office. But if you will set aside one PC, not necessarily on the network, with the old software, you at least have someplace to run the software that takes you by surprise. This only works for software that is not dependent upon your network.
Fourth, when you find software that will not function under an upgraded system, you need to decide how important that software is. If it is personal, not business, software –take it home. Otherwise, you need to ask yourself a few questions. Are you on the leading edge and need to be patient while your software providers catch up? This happens. You need to understand their perspective and realize it’s not trivial for them to upgrade either. Does the software support critical business processes? If not, perhaps you can eliminate it. If it does, is there similar software from another vendor that could be easily implemented? Or do you want to work with your provider to update their software?
Note a special case in upgrading. Many agencies use Microsoft Office. And quite a few software packages integrate with Microsoft Office. If you are upgrading Office, make sure you contact everyone whose software integrates to verify they are ready for the new version. Also, if your management system is an ASP or is web-hosted, you may not have to do Server upgrades, but you still have workstation upgrades and interdependencies.
Finally, once you’ve decided it’s time to upgrade, coordinate your upgrades. Management system providers often require an installation sequence of data base server (SQL), workstations (NT or Win 2000), Microsoft Office, and then management system software. Pay attention to software provider instructions. Allow enough time. And backup your data files before you start!
This article represents the opinions of the author and should not be construed as an official statement of ACT.